The Gigli Concert

The Gigli Concert Wendy McDougall_reviewThis production of The Gigli Concert provided an opportunity to not only experience my first Tom Murphy play, but also to make my first visit to one of Sydney’s newest and cosiest theatres, the Eternity Playhouse in Burton Street, Darlinghurst.

When I first saw the advertisements, I mistakenly assumed it was a new play by Queanbeyan playwright, Tommy Murphy, best known for his plays Holding the Man and Strangers in Between. Further inquiry of course revealed that this was not a play by Tommy Murphy, but by Irish playwright Tom Murphy, who many consider to be Ireland’s greatest living playwright.

Interestingly, this is the fourth production of The Gigli Concert presented by the co-producers, O’Punsky’s Theatre. Director, John O’Hare and the two male leads, Patrick Dickson and Maeliosa Stafford, have been involved in all four productions, so I was curious to find out what they found so compelling about this play.

The Gigli Concert concerns a down-on-his-luck, alcoholic; a quack psychiatrist, JPW King (Patrick Dickson), who’s eking out a living conducting consultations in his squalid office/apartment. Between constant telephone conversations with his wife, King is also having an on-going affair with a married woman, Mona (Kim Lewis) on a convertible sofa-bed in his office.

When a mysterious millionaire Irish businessman (Maeliosa Stafford) walks into his office demanding King help him sing like the famous Italian tenor, Beniamino Gigli, his life becomes even more surreal.

According to John O’Hare in his program notes “There is a Faustian pact in Gigli, perhaps more than one. Who makes it and how it is worked with are endlessly fascinating”. Well, maybe to Mr. O’Hare and his cast, who, by this fourth production, must have a deep knowledge and appreciation of the subtleties of the text, but to this first-time viewer many aspects of the play simply remain obtuse and confusing.

All three actors give solid ‘actorly’ performances. Throughout the three hours duration of the play, they deliver their lines in a sort of ‘disconnect’, constantly talking to each other, but not really communicating. Because we’re always aware that they are giving a performance, we don’t become involved in them as believable people.

Ambiguous situations abound. The play commences with the psychiatrist, JPW King listening to a recording of Gigli, but when his client declares his ambition to sing like Gigli, King never acknowledges his own fascination with Gigli’s voice. Because conversations are often drowned out by over-amplified recordings of Gigli, information is lost. According to the program notes these recordings are carefully stipulated by the author, but because they are sung in Italian, any significance they have is lost on the majority of the audience.

Towards the end of the play, King attempts suicide by ingesting handfuls of pills washed down with copious amounts of vodka. He collapses on the floor apparently in a coma for the duration of another Gigli aria, but then awakens, brushes himself down, gathers up a few belongings, and marches cheerfully out of his apartment into the ‘happily ever after’.

Perhaps this constant ambiguity is the fascination of the play. In which case, if you like to leave the theatre puzzling over what you’ve just seen, then perhaps this is the play for you.

Director: John O’Hare  Featuring: Patrick Dickson, Kim Lewis and Maeliosa Stafford  Set Designer: Gordon Burns  Costume Designer: Alison Bradshaw  Lighting Designer: Tony Youlden  Stage and Production Manager: Erin Harvey

The Gigli Concert
Eternity Playhouse, 39 Burton Street, Darlinghurst
Season continues to 4 May 2014
Bookings: (02) 8356 9987 or online at: www.darlinghursttheatre.com

For more information, visit: www.darlinghursttheatre.com for details.

Image: Maeliosa Stafford and Patrick Dickson – photo by Wendy McDougall

Review: Bill Stephens

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